There is a growing awareness of PVC’s toxic nature, but the quest to avoid it is daunting. First, you need to know when vinyl is not PVC.
We never dreamed how difficult it would be to find PVC-free baby/kid pools, floaties, life jackets and toys. After 5 years of searching, you'd think we would have quite a long list of options – but that's not the case. Summer's here, so have a look ahead at our newly updated list along with tips for avoiding pool toys that are generally made from PVC.
Products Typically Made with PVC
Inflatable Pools, Floaties and Toys
We found that almost all inflatable toys are made from PVC (usually listed as Vinyl). In fact, we didn't find a single one made from an alternative material, as there still doesn't seem to be a suitable substitute after five years of searching.
We realize that it's almost impossible to avoid them, so if you can't find an alternative product to meet your needs, we suggest you consider buying them used. This gives them a chance to off-gas before using it with your children, and also helps reduce the use of PVC (which is regarded as the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics).
Keep in mind that buying used doesn't help with phthalates, lead and other toxins common to PVC. We don't have the man (or woman!) power to research every single inflatable pool toy to find out which are phthalate-free, so you may want to contact the manufacturer before buying used items. Please note that this category includes the spring style floats as seen here, here, here and here. We confirmed with several manufacturers that the inflatable ring inside the nylon casing is made of PVC.
Dense Foam Life Vests and Mats
Most dense foam kickboards, life vests, and mats are made from closed-cell PVC foam and are covered in a layer of waterproof vinyl. Even the floaties made from non-PVC foam were mostly covered with a layer of PVC on the outside. You can identify them by their slightly rubbery exterior that's sometimes shiny. You can see an example of a PVC life vest here.
Life Vests with Neoprene or Nylon Covering
We were surprised to learn that most of our good old standby life vests were made with a PVC foam core. Their neoprene and nylon covering hides the interior, so be sure to contact the manufacturer to confirm what type of foam is used for buoyancy.
PVC-free Foam Core Life Jackets
UPDATE: We're so happy to report that we've been able to locate a handful of completely PVC-free life vests since we first researched this subject. These life jackets are made primarily with Gaia foam, NBR (nitrile butadiene rubber) foam or polyethylene foam.
PVC-free Pools, Floaties, Noodles and Mats
Polyethylene and EVA Foam Floaties, Noodles and Mats
Noodle style pool toys are usually made from polyethylene foam, which is PVC-free. This material is often used in packaging and as insulation as well. It can be identified by its more lightweight feel and porous appearance as compared to the dense, heavy PVC foam. Also, it typically doesn't have an exterior covering like PVC foam does. We found these floaties, mats, and toys made from non-toxic EVA or polyethylene foam.
Hard-sided Polyethylene Kid Pools
Thank goodness there are still old-fashioned molded pool made with PVC-free polyethylene around! They are getting harder to find, but we've seen them at Lowes here and here, at Academy Sports here. There's a great hard-sided pool made by Little Tikes, the Butterfly Beach Sandbox and Wading Pool here, and also the Step2 Play & Shade Pool pictured below.
Be sure to look for recycling codes #2, #4 and #5 because some hard-sided pools like this one are made with PVC.
What PVC-free pool toys have you found in your own research?
*NOTE: Edited to remove the H2OGO! My First Frame Pool after receiving conflicting info on ingredients (sounds like there may be PVC in the lining after all too!).
We've been aware of the dangers caused by lead exposure in children for many years now, but you have to wonder how in the world a baby bib could end up contaminated with lead, right? It turns out that lead is almost always tied to the presence of PVC (also called vinyl) in baby bibs.
Throughout my research, I kept ending up right back at the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) website. The following are some great questions and answers from their Lead in Baby Bibs FAQ:
- How do I know if my baby's bib has vinyl parts? Most bibs have a tab that lists the materials used to make the bib. If your child's bib is labeled “polyvinyl chloride”, or “vinyl”, or “PVC” it may contain lead.
- Is lead dangerous? Childhood lead exposure has a profound effect on developing brains. It can lead to brain damage, lowered IQ, attention deficit, and behavioral problems.
- Why do they put lead in bibs? Some manufacturers intentionally add lead to vinyl (PVC) plastic as a stabilizing agent or a pigment. But there are safer alternatives. PVC can be made without lead, and bibs can be made from other plastics besides PVC. Bibs can also be made without plastic.
- How serious a health threat are these lead tainted bibs? Stores were selling bibs that had lead levels three to four times greater that the legal limit for lead in paint. We take this health threat seriously, but we urge parents not to panic. The lead levels are not high enough by themselves to cause acute lead poisoning during normal use. But we also urge parents to keep in mind that children are exposed to many sources of lead. Parents can do a lot to protect their children from lead simply by testing bibs and other suspicious products and getting rid of the ones that test positive for lead.
- Are there other problems with vinyl? From the factory to the home to the garbage incinerator, vinyl products are toxic from start to finish. When burned, vinyl releases dioxins, chemicals that can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. Many vinyl products contain additional chemicals, including phthalates which confuse the body's hormone systems. Vinyl is also very difficult to recycle.
- My baby's bib (or toy, etc.) was made in China. Is it safe? The fact that your item was made in China does not make it unsafe. We've found many lead-free toys, bibs, and other items that were made in China. We've also found lead-contaminated products that were made in the United States. The only way to know if your items are contaminated with lead is to test them.
- Why are there so many dangerous Chinese products? What can we do about this? Huge retailers in our country are always cutting costs. They insist that their foreign and American manufacturers make products as cheaply as possible. This economic pressure favors dangerously cheap production at the expense of consumer safety. Retailers will tell you that they are simply responding to pressure from the American consumer who demands low prices. There are many things you can do about this: support small local businesses, write to the big retailers and urge them to protect consumer health, write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and urge it to live up to its name. You can also support organizations like Center for Environmental Health.
I hope the CEH tips enlighten you as much as they did me. Also, keep in mind that while Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) contains the word “vinyl” it's not the same as Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC). Baby bibs and toys made from EVA are widely accepted as safe.
EVA looks and feels an awful lot like PVC, so is it made with the same toxic chemicals?
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is widely accepted as safe for use in teethers. EVA is a type of plastic that does not require a plasticizer and is BPA-free, so it is considered to be a safer alternative material.
So what is this plasticizer stuff? PVC's soft texture is imparted by “plasticizing” chemicals. DEHP, a member of the phthalate family of chemicals, is the most widely used plasticizer in teethers. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CEHJ) recommends EVA as a safer PVC-free plastic alternative. CEHJ describes the effects of phthalates in their article PVC: The Poison Plastic:
Among the health effects of phthalates, found in many PVC products, are premature birth delivery, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys.
The following are a few examples of safer teethers made from EVA:
- Green Sprouts Teethers and Toys
- Sassy Flutterby Teethers
- Bright Starts Chill & Teethe Tubes
- Nuby Icy Bite Teethers and Toys
Click here to learn more about differences between PVC and EVA/PEVA in our latest update.
Photo credit: nuby.com